Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Write With Passion

I don't have anything witty or profound to share with you today.

I apologize for sounding a little bit like a Sacrament Meeting Speaker who opens with a similar "I woke up this morning and remembered my talk," or "When Bro. Soandso called me to speak three days ago," or "I'm just going to read this General Authority's talk because he said it so much better than I could." I cringe when I hear these kind of statements even though I know it's simply an attempt to lower audience expectations in an effort to stave off criticism and disappointment. Unlike a church meeting where decorum is expected and rotton tomatos rarely fly, you are welcome to take your best shots.

I recently finished a sequel to my first book Defensive Tactics and I found myself considering which writing project I should tackle next. I'm fortunate to have a couple of wonderful projects I'm eager to pursue, so how do I choose? Maybe I should focus on the sequel to my Crater Lake book that comes out in March? (click here to view 2 very cool potential covers) It's a great story, the project is interesting and I expect to have two more books in the series so writing the next book sounds like the responsible thing to do, right?

Or should I start a new project I've been itching to write all year? It's high concept with broad market apeal but has the potential to be a little bit of a lightening rod. Maybe my inner rebel is trying to get out and I'm anticipating the excitement of some controversy. Maybe. I don't know. In any case, I'm excited about it.

So what should I do? Some friends have suggested I write both simultaneously. I've got to be honest, the last time I tried writing two at the same time was more than I could handle so I think I'm going to stick with one. Other friends have suggested that I should write what I'm most passionate about at the moment. They argue that if I don't feel the passion in my writing why even bother? They remind me that my writing's not likely to make me rich (darn it) and I'm not going to become some international sensation (yay!). So I should remember why I'm writing in the first place. Why am I writing in the first place? I write to enjoy myself as I tell an exciting story. It's that simple.

I've decided I'm going to write with passion. That means I'm going to focus first on the project I feel most passionate about right now and then I will still have time to refocus on my original passion when I'm finished. What do you think? Is this wise or naive?

In closing, if I'm not excited about the Sacrament Meeting talk I'm giving I will inevitably fail to make others excited. Likewise, if I'm not passionate about my writing project, the reader won't be either.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Staying True

by Cheri Chesley

The other night, I car-pooled up to our church building with a couple of other ladies for the Relief Society broadcast. That doesn't seem like a big deal, but in my new area our ward building is 30 miles away, and I wasn't going to be able to go unless I got a ride. While driving, we chatted about this and that, and then one of them said, "Aren't you a writer? That's what I heard."

Like most authors, I love and hate that question. Love it because, yes, I am a writer and I adore it. Hate it because I am not a fan of talking about myself. But it did steer the conversation to books, specifically MY books. As it happens, she's an avid YA fantasy reader, and purchased a copy of my book that night. (it doesn't always turn out that way, but it was pretty cool)

In our conversation, I tried to express to her how vital writing is to my well being. It's not just something I love; it truly loves me back. Kind of like a form of therapy, I guess, where I get almost as much out of it as I pour into it. It's become pretty clear in recent months that if I don't write I'm a miserable person--and not that much fun to be around. I've said it before: Writing keeps me sane. There's irony there--giving credence to the voices in my head keeps me sane. Um, really?


The conference broadcast inspired me. Doing what makes me happy. Staying true to my ideals and my values. Keeping my sacred covenants. All of these things are in harmony with my writing. Remembering my value. Harmony again.

It's a pity the drive home took so long, because had I been able to rush straight to my computer I probably would have written into the night. As it was, by the time I got home and got my girls back from their grandpa's house it was past bedtime and we had church in the morning. :)

Today, though, is a new day! And I'm going to polish and shine up chapter 12 to make it beautiful.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cool Technology Uniting Readers and Authors

  by Trina Boice

Imagine being able to talk to the author of a book at the very moment you are reading it.  Unless the author is your uncle sitting next to you at Thanksgiving dinner, the scenario seems unlikely.  With today's cool technology, however, now it's a reality!

Amazon's new feature @author, allows readers to ask questions directly from their Kindles which are sent to the author's Twitter account, as well as to the writer's home page at Amazon!  Amazon's cool new technology is aimed at creating a reader community online, focusing on Kindle titles.

While publishers worry that they will be cut out of the connection, authors are cheering for a chance to improve their brand and build a stronger fan following.  If you've ever tried to write to an author through the publisher's contact information, you know that messages and questions to authors rarely get passed on.  Now the relationship can be more intimate and even instant.  Some publishers are still furious that anyone can sell their independent books online and make a fortune without their help.  Amazon is truly changing the publishing industry.

John Locke (not the bald guy from "Lost", but a businessman who started writing Kindle novels and is the first author to sell more than a million ebooks online), recently signed an unusual contract with Simon & Schuster, which allows him to continue selling his ebooks while the publisher handles marketing and sales of the print versions.  This unique deal is a perfect example of how the balance of power in the traditional publishing world has shifted, creating a need for both authors and publishers to adapt to new changes.

The @author feature is an expansion of Amazon's social-networking-style program for Kindle which invites readers to "follow" other readers and see which books they like and have commented on.  Amazon is hoping that readers will answer questions for the authors as well and create a virtual hang-out on their site.    Technology continues to bring together readers and authors in new ways.  Any time more people are reading and talking about books is always a good thing!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Help From the Buddy System

Our neighbor has a big green van that is critical to the business his wife runs. With his plumbing work suffering in the current economy, that business has become their primary source of income.

So having the van throw an engine rod a week or so ago was a very bad thing. Without the van, the business simply doesn't function.

The van had just been paid off, and replacing it--even with a used vehicle--was out of the question. Having a shop replace the engine would cost even more than replacing the van. Renting a van to keep the business operating was going to cost over a thousand dollars a week.

It's safe to say that he was in a bit of a pickle.

Fortunately, our neighbor has a network. He's been in the area for a while, and has been active in a number of organizations. It's a rare evening when there aren't a couple of extra Harleys parked out front, and I've lost count of the conversations we've had that he starts by saying, "I was over helpin' my buddy..."

In fact, more than once our neighbor has helped my family with a problem, many times when I was out of town.

So it was no surprise when a small army of capable-looking men appeared and began assessing the situation with the engine. (Okay, they actually looked like a motorcycle gang, but capable nonetheless.) Soon large tools arrived and parts began coming off the van. I noticed that different people seemed to be in charge at different times, each sharing their expertise.

For my part, I donated the use of our sunshade--an important addition even late in the Texas summer.

It took nearly a week of hard work, but by Saturday the old engine had been removed and a rebuilt motor installed in its place. The van was reassembled, and is now running as good as new. All for significantly less money than I would have thought possible.

I was impressed by the way people rallied around our neighbor in his time of need, giving of themselves to do what he couldn't do by himself.

I thought how great it would be if I had a network like that, too. And then I realized that I do.

I am part of an excellent critique group. Recently I have gotten some great feedback on Into The Wind, my sequel to Bumpy Landings. Feedback that will help me take a good story and make it great. Each member has a different perspective; a different area of expertise that they can draw on to help make my writing better.

I'll admit that there are occasions when it's hard for me to use my limited writing time to read through someone else's work. Yet I'm always glad when I do, as I can't help but learn from their work, and there is no doubt that both critiquing and being critiqued has made my writing better.

Crafting a superior story may not be as physically challenging as dropping a big-block Ford V-8, but it's every bit as complicated. And while my critique partners are somewhat lacking in leather and tattoos, they are all extremely capable writers.

I am grateful for the help that I get from my writing buddies. Having a support network can make all of the difference in the world.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

She Fought The System and Won

By Trina Boice

After a hard-fought battle to ensure the protection of American authors and publishers from extortionate foreign libel judgments, one New York-based scholar and researcher has secured the passage of the first law to achieve unanimous Congressional support this term.

Initated and promoted by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld, the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act (SPEECH Act) protects Americans from the enforcement of foreign libel judgments that do not meet American standards of constitutional protection for freedom of speech.

Faced with an internationally-publicized suit against her by a notorious libel tourist in 2004, Dr. Ehrenfeld was the first author to stand up against the phenomenon of libel tourism, a practice by which foreign libel plaintiffs sue American authors and publishers abroad solely in the attempt to suppress free speech in the United States.

Dr. Ehrenfeld’s initial efforts resulted in the passage of protective legislation in New York and in six other states, and have now reached her ultimate goal of extending those protections nationally.  Thank you Dr. Ehrenfeld!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Assassination of Governor Boggs by Rod Miller

Rod Miller's novel, The Assassination of Governor Boggs is a creative attempt to answer the mystery of who shot former Missouri Governor, Lilburn Boggs. Rod is a fellow Cedar Fort author who deserves our support.

After leaving office as Governor of Missouri, Lilburn Boggs maintained a residence in Independence Missouri, the location of the original violence and atrocities perpetrated against the Mormon Saints. On a stormy night, an assassin took his best shot, trying to rid the world of Governor Boggs and his nefarious activities. Many supposed, including the Boggs family, that the Mormons were behind the assassination attempt, and specifically that Porter Rockwell shot Lilburn Boggs under orders of Joseph Smith. To the surprise of the doctors, the newspapers and his family, Lilburn Boggs, the Governor who issued the infamous Extermination Order of Missouri Mormons survived the attempt on his life and lived for another 17 years.

Despite having many political and business enemies Lilburn Boggs believed the Mormons were behind his attempted assasination. He lived in fear the remainder of his days, expecting the Mormons to come and finish the job. Because of this fear, at least in part, Boggs moved to California where he became a man of substantial influence. This historical novel begins after Bogg's death when his son William engages the services of the Pinkerton Detective Agency to solve the crime that occurred 25 years earlier. Calvin Pogue is the detective assigned to the case.

The Pinkerton Man's investigation leads him to California, Nauvoo, Independence and Salt Lake City as he attempts to piece together the motive, facts and evidence of the 25 year old crime. Pogue is an honest seeker of truth and is determined to follow the evidence whereever it leads. He is a likeable and determined character.

Rod Miller uses this account of a fictional investigation to add context to the Missouri Persecutions of the 1830's. Through Pogue's dispassionate interviews with lawmen, LDS apostates, LDS leaders such as Brigham Young, Emma Smith, sympathizers like Alexander Doniphan and even Porter Rockwell himself, he explores both sides of the conflict that presumably led to the assassination attempt. Each character speaks with a unique voice consistent with the era and Miller does a nice job salting the story with authentic details of frontier life in the 1860's.

As church members we usually only read and hear apologetic accounts that hold out all Missourian's as mobbers and evil-doers, while all Mormons were pure, faithful and innocent victims of a wicked government led by Lilburn Boggs. Miller regales us however with accounts of Mormon enforcers called Danite "night riders" and we quickly see that both sides possessed the power to behave badly. As is generally the case, there is rarely pure evil and pure righteousness personified in fallible human beings. Every person, whether it's Lilburn Boggs or Porter Rockwell share a split personality of good and evil. Some traits are nobel and strong and worthy of emulation, while others serve as examples of what not to do.

I enjoyed this story a great deal. Rod Miller is a unique storyteller. It took me a couple of chapters to appreciate how he juxtaposed early interviews in the investigation with pieces of his final interview with Porter Rockwell. Because the interviews didn't always follow a linear time line, we sometimes heard repeated accounts by secondary sources to the investigation. While these redundancies sometimes slowed the pace of the story, they also served to reinforce the truthfulness or inconsistencies of the different interview subjects. When we read a secondary account of the same events, as the reader we draw our own conclusions about the trustworthiness of the account, just as Detective Pogue did.

I enjoyed learning more about Porter Rockewell and Lilburn Boggs and I always appreciate an engaging church history story.

On a personal note, I served my mission in Independence Missouri. Following my mission and schooling I moved to a small town in Caldwell County Missouri near Far West where I still live and currently serve as the Bishop of the Far West Ward for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have a deep love for this area and the rich LDS history and I believe there is much we can learn from both the successes and failures of the early saints.

Understanding the weaknesses and mistakes of the early saints can be educational if we recognize the saints for who they were; imperfect people who lived during a dangerous and challenging time that in many ways is impossible for us to fully appreciate. Sometimes we base our faith on the actions and behaviors of people we look up to and when we find that a person isn't as perfect as we once thought, we become disillusioned. This can be one of the risks in studying church history and I hope readers will remember this and not make the foolish mistake of judging the gospel doctrine and worthiness of the church based on the imperfections of individuals.

This book asks many direct questions and leads the reader to ask many more of his own. While I may not agree with all the conclusions of Pogue's investigation I certainly enjoyed the ride and the creative way in which the history and the associated questions were presented. My one major criticism of this work concerns the final chapter. I won't describe the issue because it could be a spoiler for the reader, but I found the final scene, which I believe is purely fictional with no basis in fact, to leave the reader with an unfortunate bias which could influence their conclusions.

So did Porter Rockwell attempt to assassinate Lilburn Boggs? And if so, did he do it under order of Joseph Smith? You'll have to read the book and make your own decision.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in tasting the flavor of the Missouri period of the church. It is an enjoyable read during which you have the opportunity to learn.

Check out my interview with Rod Miller.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Like most people, it got me thinking. Where was I? What was I doing? What was I thinking?

I've repeated this before. One of the UT newspapers put out a call in 2002 for people to write what they remembered in 500 words or less. I got my submission in, and received the phone call that they wanted a photographer to come take my picture. It was all kind of surreal at the time, but this, essentially, is what was published in that paper:

We'd planned a family trip, and were leaving that morning--me, my husband, our three sons and infant daughter. Utah to OK is a long drive and we wanted an early start, but we weren't getting it. In fact, we were still getting ready when my brother (we were living with him at the time) came in to tell us he'd heard "unconfirmed reports" of an airplane striking the World Trade Center. I admit it, we laughed at that. What do they mean unconfirmed? Can't they just look and see? We were thinking it had to be a hoax, or some kind of advertising stunt. It wasn't until we heard about the second plane hitting, and also something going on at the Pentagon, that we started to wonder what was really going on.

We set out on the road, stopping one last time for snacks and gas. As we stood in line at Walmart, the lady in front of us was on the phone and had tears streaming down her face. She had someone, family, at the WTC. I felt for her, for her pain and anguish. We hurried to our car after making our purchases and turned on the news radio.

Our hearts sank lower and lower as the events unfolded. What had started out as an ordinary day hadn't stayed that way long. During the drive, we tuned in AM radio for any updates as we neared and passed through towns and cities. We watched the news that night at the hotel, and repeated the same procedure the second day of the trip.

Sadly, I don't remember much about the visit we had with my in-laws. I don't even remember what my kids did for that week. I do remember holding my baby in my arms, glued to the TV with all the other adults, and watching with horror and that awful helplessness the incredible suffering that had been inflicted upon countless families and individuals. I think, in those moments and days after, we all felt personally attacked to some degree. To attack America was to strike at each of us. That feeling has not left me.

Now, as we remember the events of that day, I prefer the stories of the brave--and how many there were--who sacrificed their safety and even their lives to help friends, colleagues and strangers. It warms my heart to think of the selfless ones who seemed to understand so much more, and do so much more. They are true heroes, all.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Very Slumping:" Things I've Learned from "Junie B. Jones"

Junie B. Jones is adorable. I discovered this during the summer when I read Junie B. Jones books to my kids. For those of you who may not have read them before or know what they’re about, Junie B. is a young girl (Kindergarten /First Grade) who gets into a lot of trouble.

But it’s the way she speaks to her audience while she’s getting into mischief that makes her adorable. This is because her voice is so close to an actual Kindergartener, though an adult, Barbara Park, created her. For example, she says that she “quick runned…” instead of ran, she can’t remember her teacher’s name so she calls her “Mrs. and that’s all,” and her heart gets all “pumpy” when she does something wrong and she’s about to get caught. Not to mention that she eats candy she found on the playground because she “…loves those guys, that’s why.”

One afternoon, I scanned through the titles of the chapters before reading to my kids, and noticed the chapter title, “Very Slumping.” I giggled when I read this, because I knew that something was going to go wrong and she would then feel very sad. But it was the description I loved because I could just picture her with her shoulders slumped and a sad, pouty face. Maybe it’s the mother in me, but sometimes I wish I could just reach through the pages of the book and wipe away her little tears.

From an author’s perspective, it’s easy to see how Barbara Park uses well the techniques of character, voice, dialogue, description, and show vs. tell. All of these are used and balanced well to engage and entertain the audience, which I might add includes everyone in my household from the ages of 8 to 40.

From an adult perspective, I’m thrown into the world of being a little girl again. I remember the promise I made to myself when I was little that I would remember what it was like being young so that when I was a mom, I could understand my children. I’m sad to admit that I very often forget what it’s like to be a kid, or even to be childlike.

But I’ve learned that I’m never too old to:

· Laugh,

· Play everyday (I like to read, write, talk with my kids, spend time with family, and ride on the back of my hubby’s motorcycle.)

· Identify with emotions quickly, especially negative ones, get them out, then get back to happiness or joy (sometimes I have happy feet that like to dance, others times I feel “very slumping”, sometimes it’s in-between.)

· Forgive easily

· Be humble, submissive, and obedient to authority (God)

· Have a routine or schedule

· Learn everyday

· Do chores/work/service

· Be grateful

When I do these things, I have my happiest days. When I don’t, I have not-so-happy days. And who knows. Maybe on those days when I’m feeling “very slumping”, God is giggling at my pouty face and wishes to reach through the clouds and wipe away my tears.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Effective Dialogue

by Rebecca Talley

When writing fiction, it’s important to understand the techniques of writing effective and realistic dialogue. Dialogue in fiction is quite different from speech in real life.

Mimicking true conversation won’t be effective in a story. Listen to a few conversations and you’ll understand why. People tend to say “um,” “uh,” “yeah,” or “like.” Some people even pepper their conversations with, “you know what I mean.” It’s a subconscious speech pattern that the user rarely recognizes, but in written form would kill a story. Though people stammer, stutter, or pause throughout natural conversation, you don’t want to include that in your dialogue.

Dialogue should propel the story forward. Readers don’t need to know all the gritty details of a character’s day unless that specific information moves the story forward. Conversation between two characters that portrays certain qualities of those characters or crucial information exchanged between characters are both effective uses of dialogue.

Dialogue needs to be attributed to characters. It’s most effective when the character has such a unique voice that the reader instantly knows which character is speaking. When using dialogue tags, the word said should be used most often. Occasionally asked or answered can be used, but stay away from words like interjected, declared, insisted, intimated or other less-used words that may draw a reader out of the story. Said seems to disappear and it doesn’t distract from the story. As a writer, you don’t want anything to pull your reader away from the world you’ve created.

Akin to this is giving character speaking attributions that are physically impossible to accomplish. It’s hard to laugh or smile some dialogue. “It’s Tuesday,” she laughed. If your character is laughing. She’s probably not saying anything. A better choice might be, “It’s Tuesday.” She laughed. Two separate actions.

While English teachers may encourage the use of varying dialogue tags, their use generally communicates that the writer is inexperienced.

Make sure that your dialogue is realistic without being real-life speech, that it moves the story forward, and that the tags don’t distract from the story. Following these guidelines will help you write your fiction in a more effective manner and may just mean the difference between an acceptance and a rejection.